Kodiak runner becomes first Alaskan to crack 4-minute mile

Doyle Woody
Kevin Clark

The pursuit of a sub-four-minute mile rates as a family quest for the Dunbars of Kodiak.

Marcus Dunbar chased it for years and came excruciatingly close to that magic mark. He passed the mission to his son, Trevor.

Monday night in Portland, Ore., Trevor fulfilled the dream the family has long fancied.

Trevor Dunbar, cranking off nearly even quarter-mile splits, clocked 3 minutes, 59.06 seconds to win the mile at the Roughrider Twilight Meet and become the first Alaskan to break the four-minute barrier.

Trevor, 22, ran in his father's old black singlet from the Team Alaska Track Club -- "to make it more symbolic'' -- and added another line to a running resume that already includes two All-America honors at the University of Oregon, where he will be a redshirt senior in the fall.

"I was definitely very proud,'' Trevor said by cellphone Tuesday. "I'm always going to be proud to be an Alaskan. Being the first Alaskan to make this history was important to me.''

The 6-foot, 150-pounder seized history in the presence of his father, who was track-side at Roosevelt High School, calling out his son's quarter-mile splits -- 59.4 seconds, 59.8, 60.3 and a closing 59.7.

Marcus Dunbar, the former Bartlett High standout who also ran at Oregon and is a 10-time winner of the Heart Run 5-K in Anchorage, in the 1990s made a dogged pursuit of the coveted four-minute mile first breached by England's Roger Bannister in 1954. The closest Marcus got was 4:00.58.

"It's been a long time coming,'' Marcus, 48, told flotrack.org after Trevor's race. "I made several attempts myself and came up short every time, so it's vindication to have Trevor (do it).

"I kind of wanted that to be me, at one time. But there's been a lot of (Alaska) guys who came before me and guys that came after me. We all came up short. It's good to see Trevor getting it done.''

Father and son began driving to Alaska on Tuesday. After a long outdoor track season in the spring and then racing into the summer, Trevor said he'll take it relatively easy in Kodiak this summer. He's out of eligibility for cross country, but he has one season of eligibility remaining at Oregon in both indoor track and outdoor track. When he returns to Eugene, Ore., in the fall, he will begin sharpening his training in anticipation of the USA Track & Field National Club Cross Country Championships, set for Dec. 14 in Bend, Ore.

Running is in Trevor's genes. His father still coaches cross country and track in Kodiak -- Marcus' Heart Run record time of 14:39 from 1995 still stands -- and his mother, Kathleen, is a former college runner too.

Trevor Dunbar's strength is at distances longer than the mile -- his previous personal record for the mile was the 4:01.33 he ran in Eugene, in 2010.

But a 1,500-meter race he ran earlier this month -- the 1,500 has long been the favored international distance closest to a mile -- told him he was fit enough and had honed his speed enough to bust a four-minute mile. Trevor ran 3:38.38 -- the equivalent of a mile in the 3:56-3:57 range -- in finishing second at the Victoria International Track Classic in British Columbia.

"After I did that, it was like, 'OK, I'm in this kind of shape, so I need to get in a mile race,' '' Trevor said.

At about that same time in July, Trevor said, he caught wind of the Roughrider Twilight Meet. He and Rob Finnerty, who finished third in Victoria in 3:38.49, aimed for a sub-four mile, aided by three rabbits, or designated pace-setters.

The rabbits did not push the pace as long as expected, and winds buffeted the runners. Trevor Dunbar said Finnerty, who runs in college for Wisconsin, took over the lead and did much of the hard work as he and Dunbar moved into the second half of the race. Dunbar took the lead with about 300 yards to go and held off Finnerty, whose 3:59.42 marked his first time under four minutes.

"All in all, it really worked out well,'' Trevor said. "No complaints. Had to have everyone's help.

"Once I was out there, I didn't think about (the wind) too much and just tried to focus on running hard, and just trying to relax my body as much as I could so I could really run a fast (final) lap. I thought, 'If I beat (Finnerty), I'll go under four.' ''

Trevor said his sharp fitness, Finnerty's fitness and hard racing, and everything right down to his father's singlet and the support he always feels from Alaskans, made his record run possible.

"All the stars aligned,'' he said.

The Dunbars are in the car and on the road this week, headed home. They've got a copy of "The Milepost,'' travel guide. They're thumbing through it, Trevor said, looking for good places to get in a run.


Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.